Boris Johnson drops out of Tory leadership race – Sunak now hot favourite to become Prime Minister
Boris Johnson will not stand for the Tory leadership, despite claiming that he had the support of the 100 MPs required to run.
The decision means that Rishi Sunak will be the very hot favourite to become the next Prime Minister, either tomorrow or by the end of the week if there is a contest.
Bookies were at the time of writing offering 1/25 odds of Rishi Sunak becoming the next PM, while the only other declared candidate Penny Mordaunt has odds of 29/1.
The announcement seemed to come as a surprise to his backers, with Nadhim Zahawi MP having published an opinion piece on the Telegraph website hailing the return of “Boris 2.0” just a few seconds before it was announced that he was pulling out.
Explaining his decision, the former prime minister said: “In the last few days I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who suggested that I should once again contest the Conservative Party leadership, both among the public and among friends and colleagues in Parliament.
“I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago – and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now.
“A general election would be a further disastrous distraction just when the Government must focus on the economic pressures faced by families across the country.
“I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.
“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.
“But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.
“And though I have reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.
“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.
“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”
Earlier his campaign team had told supporters they have secured the 100 nominations needed from MPs for the former prime minister to get on the ballot paper.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had sent a Whatsapp message to supporters confirming they have the numbers, according to The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole.
Mr Heaton-Harris told them: “OK everyone! Some very good news! Thanks to all your hard work I can confirm we have completed all the paperwork (verified all nominations, with proposer and seconder) to be on the ballot tomorrow.”
Many however had cast doubt on whether Boris Johnson had 100 MPs supporting him or was engaging in some characteristic boosterism.
Mr Johnson’s withdrawal leaves the election to replace Liz Truss as potentially a straight fight between Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, and Ms Mordaunt, the Leader of the House.
It could all be over a little after 2pm on Monday if Ms Mordaunt – who so far has fewer than 30 public declarations of support from MPs fails – to enough nominations to go forward.
Her supporters will be hoping that the departure of Mr Johnson will open up the contest, enabling her to make it onto the ballot paper.
If she does, MPs will hold an “indicative vote” to show who they support and there will then be an online poll of activists to decide the contest – unless one or other of the candidates stand down.
Many critics of Mr Johnson will be relieved to see him out of the race, fearing that it could plunge the party back into renewed turmoil.
While Mr Sunak – with more that 140 declarations of support according to some reports – is favourite to top the ballot of MPs, Mr Johnson’s supporters believed he would have come out top in the poll of party members.
It raised the prospect of another scenario – as with Ms Truss – where the choice of the activists does not have the backing of MPs potentially leading to more turmoil and division at Westminster.
Before the announcement, Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker warned Mr Johnson – who still faces a Commons inquiry into whether he misled Parliament over lockdown parties in Downing Street – would be a “guaranteed disaster”.
“There’s going to be a vote before the House of Commons on this issue of privileges, whether he deliberately misled the House,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“In that vote it’s guaranteed there’ll be a large number of Conservatives who will refuse, as they see it, to lay down their integrity to save him, and at that moment his premiership will collapse.”
However, the withdrawal of Mr Johnson does not mean the end of the divisions within the party.
A significant section – including many activists – loathe Mr Sunak for his role in bringing down Mr Johnson last summer, meaning Ms Mordaunt could still come out on top if the contest does go to a final ballot.
There is also likely to be anger among members if they are denied a say if, for whatever reason, there is no poll of activists.
However one prominent Cabinet supporter of Mr Johnson – the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi – announced he was now backing Mr Sunak.
“A day is a long time in politics… Given today’s news, it’s clear that we should turn to Rishi Sunak to become our next prime minister,” he tweeted.
“Rishi is immensely talented, will command a strong majority in the parliamentary Conservative Party, and will have my full support and loyalty.”
Despite Mr Johnson’s claim to have the necessary nominations, some MPs in rival camps have questioned whether he really did.
Earlier, a Whatsapp message from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to Johnson supporters claiming to have “completed all the paperwork (verified all nominations, with proposer and seconder) to be on the ballot” was briefed to journalists.
In response, Richard Holden, a Sunak supporter tweeted: “Very odd to brief this out again… (two days in a row). It’s what they briefed yesterday.
“It’s almost as if they still need people and are desperate to show momentum, which they can’t because no-one will publicly come out.”
Earlier, Mr Sunak became the second contender to formally to declare he is standing, promising to “fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country” at a time of “profound economic crisis”.
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